Writing to you from my very comfy one bedroom apartment in Las Vegas is me, Will Brooks. I am the author of the book ‘You’re Uninvited’, which contains the text from which the ‘Dried Tobacco Project’ takes its message. The entirety of ‘You’re Uninvited’ deals with many issues, but for the purposes of this project I’d like to focus on one: LGBT youth and suicide.
Being anything other than what society deems ‘normal’ can be terrifying for someone who is still trying to understand who they are and how they work. It’s not strange to any of us that growing up was and is difficult. I don’t think anyone can say they got the hang of it. It’s just something you have to experience and push your way through no matter who you are. Unfortunately just ‘pushing through it’ isn’t as easy for many who are struggling with their sexuality or gender identity.
While tolerance has grown more widespread, with more than 52% of the country believing same-sex marriage should be legal, not everyone is on board. If you take a look at our Republican presidential candidates you can see the hate that many people in this country still have for things they aren’t able to comprehend. This hatred can easily spread as fear, sparking outrage and panic in people who are susceptible to negative opinions. It’s this hate that many youth encounter on a daily basis.
Picture this: You’re a parent who has done everything possible to give their son or daughter a good life. You’ve supported them, disciplined them, and taught them what it means to be a good person. But at the current moment you don’t know that your son or daughter is fighting an internal battle just to accept themselves. He or she has already confided their personal struggle with you, and you’ve accepted them with open arms, but outside of the walls of your home, your son or daughter is being bombarded with messages of hate. He or she is being shoved in the hallways of their school, being called awful names like ‘faggot’ or ‘dyke.’ They are crying alone in bathrooms between classes so no one else can see their tears. When they turn on the TV all they see are the groups of people who are willing to kill to stop anyone who is different. They see law enforcement doing nothing to help, churches are turning them away, even God (by any name) seems to have abandoned them.
You come home from work late one night to find the house is silent, more than usual. Your partner should be home soon but your son or daughter is usually in the living room watching TV or doing homework. Tonight they are not. You call out to them only to receive no answer, something you aren’t used to. Curiosity is a powerful thing, as the eerie silence around you is enough to make you question the tranquility of your life. You make your way down a hallway toward your child’s bedroom. The door is cracked only slightly, but you can see the light from the desk lamp glowing just enough to calm your frantic heart. When you push the door open you expect to see your child in their bed asleep or with headphones in, but instead they are clasping an empty bottle of pills in their lifeless hand. There’s no note, no warning, only shock and pain. What you never knew didn’t hurt you, it broke you.
You never saw the pain, the heartache, because your son or daughter didn’t want you to see it. You thought you were doing everything right, but when you found them staring lifeless at the ceiling, the light that once glowed behind their eyes extinguished, you questioned everything.
Unfortunately, this is a common scenario in our society, our world. Young people are seeing your hate, your apathy to correct people who say hurtful things. They see you look away when a bully throws a punch, or a pastor tells a congregation that gays are going to burn in Hell. They see your acceptance of bigoted politicians and hate crimes. They see the negatives, and it kills them little by little, day by day, until they think so little of themselves that living is no longer an option.
This is the message of the Dried Tobacco Project. This musical composition takes the voices of victims and put them in front of you. When I wrote these poems my goal was to take someone’s pain and make it clear. I wanted to put the audience in the front seat of a car careening towards the cliff side, or standing on the railing of a balcony. I wanted them to know what it feels like to lose everything, to feel so lost and destroyed even a rope couldn’t fix it.
To write something so dark, I had to draw from my own experiences with coming out and attempting suicide. I’m one of the lucky ones. I survived, but many people don’t get to grow up and see the good that can come from pushing forward. The goal of my book, and of this project, is to give you, the audience, an insight into the pain and suffering these young people face so that you can take the opportunity to save a life. We have the power to change the world. I think it’s time we started.
Best wishes to all,